I’m going to put three warnings into this introduction. 1) If you haven’t seen the 2012 Danish film The Hunt (AKA Jagten), then I warn you that this is a textual analysis of the film and it will contain spoilers. 2) If you are a childcare professional, please be aware the film discusses a very sensitive subject. Both this article and the film may be quite disconcerting for you to view. I should know as when I first saw the film I was working in a primary school, mostly with the younger classes. 3) This will delve more into social structures than the art of film, but I would point out that these Special Interest Reviews are for examining a film through a very specific lens. What I want to discuss in this article is how movies can tackle complex social issues in a thoughtful, respectful manner. I would also like to thank Niche Film Reviews for reminding me about this film. I will post a link to their article at the bottom of the page which I recommend people read if they want to get a sense of the film without spoilers. Last chance to turn back. Still here? Okay.
The story is that Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) works in a preschool as a helper. He has a great relationship with all the children, including a little girl called Klara. Though only young, Klara is infatuated with Lucas and one day while they are playing she kisses him on the mouth. He rebukes her and she is hurt. Later that day, using language she heard her older brother use, she falsely accuses Lucas of sexual abuse and because she is so young people automatically assume she must be telling the truth. As a result, Lucas is practically exiled from society while one by one is friends and family turn on him, believing the lie.
What The Hunt seeks to discuss here is the concept of “Trial by Society”, which is a particularly important topic in the age of the internet. This is the idea that once an accusation is made, decisions are made by groups as to the defendant’s guilt without any proof either way. This is most prominent in cases of alleged sexual abuse. Obviously, The film has chosen to examine this idea from the perspective of someone who is falsely accused and damned by society. Even if you believe that a child cannot and will not lie about something like this, it is an interesting thought experiment at the very least. And the thing is, the child isn’t malicious. She’s just a child. What I mean by that is she does not understand the implications of her lie. In no reality has a child ever thought about the social implications and consequences of a lie beyond “Mummy will be mad if she finds out”.
Like a lie can sometimes do it spirals out of control when the adults get involved. I think one of the most interesting scenes in the film happens when the investigation begins. A retired detective comes in and questions Klara about what she said and her trepidation is misinterpreted as a symptom of abuse. But what makes the scene stand out for me is how his questions are framed. They start off straight forward but very quickly they change from “did Lucas do anything?” to “what did Lucas do?” without Klara ever saying anything really concrete. It demonstrates that, in the views of the film, that we as a society more often than not stand behind the alleged victim where we should be neutral. But what the film does that makes it even more praiseworthy is that it vilifies no one.
The interrogation of Klara, while framed with a specific answer in mind, is understandable. It’s all about protecting children, something we can all relate to. This extends to the rest of the community portrayed in the film. Their actions are misguided but entirely justifiable, given that everyone assumes children don’t lie about something like this. It’s just a natural parental instinct that if something threatens your child you will actively defend it in whatever means are available to you. And no matter what that parent will always think that the defendant is guilty. The person who is most stubborn is the one who thinks their child has been wronged.
That’s the great tragedy of this film. Roughly at the midpoint of the film, Lucas is arrested by the police. He is acquitted of the charges due to lack of evidence but it doesn’t matter. Everyone thinks he did it. Time passes the pressure on him eases a bit but there is always that contingent who hate his guts. We know this because he goes on a hunting trip and in the final scene of the film a faceless figure tries to shoot him. He’s been branded. A consquence of his public trial. All of it stemming from a little lie.
The Hunt is a masterclass in how to portray a complex social issue like this. It operates as a critique of societal perceptions of sexual abuse cases while making sure each relevant party is kept relatable. I recommend it highly.
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Niche Film Review Link – https://nichefilmreview.wordpress.com/category/the-hunt-2012/